Desert Shield/Desert Storm –
The Persian Gulf War (1990-1991)
History of The Iowa National Guard
CW2 David L. Snook
On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded the small neighboring sheikdom of Kuwait. A long-standing border dispute and alleged Kuwait violations of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) production quotas were the reasons given for the attack. An underlying reason, however, was the desire of Iraq’s leader, President Saddam Hussein, to make his nation the dominant military and economic power in the whole Middle East region.
Iraq is a complex society. It is predominantly Arab and Muslim. However, there is a large Kurdish minority (about one-fourth of the total population) in the north. Most Kurds are Muslims, but they have their own language and culture. The Muslim community is also divided. About half are Shiites, while the remainder are Sunnis. There is also a small but influential Christian minority. Since 1979, Iraq has been governed by President Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, and the absolute ruler of the Bath Party, Iraq’s only legal political party.
On first coming to power, Hussein was strongly anti-Western and anti-Israeli. He moderated his policies somewhat during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) but resumed his strident rhetoric almost as soon as the war was over.
Militarily, the Iran-Iraq War was indecisive, but it did elevate Saddam Hussein to a position of leadership in the Arab World. He saw himself as the leader destined to reunite the Arab people, by force if necessary, and lead them to a new period of glory. He also hoped to assume control over the oil reserves of the Middle East and drive the Israelis out of the region. He did not disband his million-man army after the war with Iran, but, instead, began to spend billions on new weapons (including Soviet Scud missiles, T-72 tanks and MiG-29 jet fighters). He also pushed ahead with Iraqi research and development of chemical and nuclear weapons.
On July 17, 1990, in a bitter and threatening speech, Hussein accused Kuwait of building military installations on Iraqi territory, of stealing billions of dollars worth of oil from the Iraqi portion of the Rumaila oil field that overlaps a section of their common border, and of overproducing oil, thus driving world prices down. He also began massing troops along the Kuwaiti border.
On August 2, the Iraqis launched their invasion. Kuwait’s outnumbered forces were soon overwhelmed. The emir, Sheik Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah, fled to Saudi Arabia by helicopter; his younger brother, Sheik Fahd, was killed defending the palace. As soon as military action had been completed, Saddam Hussein announced the formal annexation of Kuwait as Iraq’s 19th province. He also began massing troops along the border with Saudi Arabia.
By annexing Kuwait, Hussein doubled Iraq’s oil reserves, which now constituted about 20% of the world oil supply. If he were to invade Saudi Arabia, while seemed alarmingly possible, he would control nearly 50%.
Hussein clearly miscalculated the international response to the Iraqi invasion. The United Nations Security Council quickly condemned the attack and demanded the immediate withdrawal of Iraqi forces. An international trade embargo was also organized. Eventually, a military coalition of more than thirty nations, authorized by the United Nations and led by the United States, was created.
Iraq failed to get any significant international support, even from fellow Arabs. Twelve members of the Arab League, led by Egypt, demanded that Iraq withdraw from Kuwait and pledged their military forces to defend Saudi Arabia and any other Arab state threatened by Iraq.
The military buildup in the Middle East, organized primarily by the United States, had two goals – the defense of Saudi Arabia and the liberation of Kuwait. Military operations in support of the first goal came to be called Operation Desert Shield. The actual military offensive against Iraqi military forces in Kuwait would be termed Operation Desert Storm.
The first U. S. forces to reach the region were the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions and three Marine brigades. The combined Allied force would eventually number about 700,000, with 540,000 being Americans. Other nations making significant contributions included Syria (20,000), Egypt (35,000), Saudi Arabia (40,000), Britain (35,000), France (10,000), and Kuwait (7,000).
By November, it was clear that economic pressure alone would not force an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. On November 29, the United Nations voted to set a January 15 deadline for the removal of Iraqi troops. On January 12, Congress gave President George Bush the authority to use the American military to carry out U. N. Resolution 678 for the restoration of Kuwaiti independence. With the failure of a last-minute diplomatic mission to Baghdad, led by U. N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, all possibilities of a peaceful end to the crisis appeared to have been exhausted.
With the passage of the U. N. deadline, the war began. The Persian Gulf War was essentially fought in two phases – a six-week air assault and a follow-up, 100-hour, ground campaign.
Allied air attacks devastated Iraqi defenses. The Iraqi air forces were either destroyed or driven into hiding, leaving ground forces with little or no protection. Using sophisticated new weapons systems, such as Tomahawk cruise missiles and GBU-15 "smart" bombs, the Allies inflicted enormous damage, not only on military targets but on supply bases and communication centers as well.
On February 22, President Bush announced that Iraq would have until noon (EST) the next day to begin withdrawing from Kuwait. If not, the Allied offensive would continue, a clear signal that the land war was about to begin. Iraq gave no reply but signaled continued defiance by dynamiting Kuwaiti oil fields.
At 0400 hours on the 24th of February, coalition ground forces began their attack. The strategic plan, developed by General Norman Schwarzkopf and his staff, contained three basic elements – a decoy maneuver to draw Iraqi forces to the coast and two coordinated ground attacks, one from the south and the other from the west.
The first element of the attack was a well-planned feint. A 17,000-man Marine force seemed poised to make an amphibious landing at Kuwait City. The attack never came, but thousands of Iraqi troops were drawn to the coast and wound up, in effect, facing the wrong direction.
The second element of the offensive was a coordinated attack by Kuwaiti, Syrian, Saudi and other Arab units, with the aid of the U. S. Marines, through Iraqi mine fields and other defenses into southern Kuwait. The attack was a complete success, and Iraq forces were soon in total disarray, either retreating or surrendering.
The final element of the plan was a massive attack from the west by American, British, French, and Arab forces. Perhaps the most daring maneuver was the launching of the largest helicopter assault in military history, as 4,000 men of the 101st Airborne Division were airlifted 60 miles inside Iraqi territory to establish a forward supply base. This maneuver allowed rapidly advancing Allied forces to occupy much of southern Iraq and block all escape routes for retreating Iraqi forces. In the most intense engagements of the war, the U. S. VII Corps and XVIII Corps met and overwhelmed units of Iraq’s elite Republican Guards in northern Kuwait and southern Iraq.
By the fourth day of the land war, February 27, it was clear that fighting was coming to an end. The 1st Marine Division seized Kuwait International Airport. Meanwhile, the 2nd Marine Division secured all entrances into Kuwait City, allowing Kuwaiti forces the honor of being the first to enter the capital. By evening, the 100-hour war was over.
The Persian Gulf War was the first test for the Army’s Total Force Policy. Seventy-five thousand National Guardsmen were mobilized, 43,000 of whom actually deployed to the Middle East. Due to a combination of inadequate supply and Regular Army prejudice, only a limited number of combat arms (infantry, armor, artillery) National Guard units were mobilized. The great majority of National Guard soldiers sent to the Middle East served in combat service support units. All of the Iowa units that served in the war were combat service support units.
The first callup of Iowa Army National Guard soldiers began in September of 1990. This marked the first federal mobilization of the Iowa National Guard since 1968. On September 30, the 1133rd Transportation Company (Mason City) deployed to the mobilization station at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. On Veterans Day, 1991, they flew from Volk Field, Wisconsin, aboard U. S. Air Force C141s, to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. It would be 267 days before they would return home.
Other Iowa Guard units followed. In November, the 134th Medical Company (Washington), the 209th Medical Company (Iowa City), 1034th Quartermaster Company (Camp Dodge) and the 1187th Medical Company (Boone) were mobilized. In December, the 1168th Transportation Company (Red Oak and Perry) was mobilized, followed by the 186th Military Police Company (Camp Dodge). In January, 1991, the Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 34th Military Police Battalion, and the 3654th Maintenance Company (Knoxville, Chariton, Oskaloosa and Camp Dodge) were mobilized. The last units of the Iowa National Guard to be mobilized were those of the 224th Engineer Battalion from Fairfield, Mount Pleasant, Burlington, Ottumwa, Centerville, Muscatine and Keokuk. Individual membersof the 132nd Tactical Fighter Wing (Sioux City) and the 185th Tactical Fighter Group (Des Moines) were also mobilized. All told, 2,016 Iowa Guardsmen (1886 ARNG and 130 ANG) were called to active duty during Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
The record of accomplishment of the Iowa units is a tribute to their hard work and professionalism. The 1133rd Transportation Company drove over 2.1 million miles while sustaining the highest operability rate (98%) of any unit in their battalion. The 1168th Transportation Company logged over 525,000 miles and received the Meritorious Unit Citation for its outstanding contributions during then war. Medics of the 209th Medical Company treated thousands of patients, including prisoners of war. The 209th Clearing Company (Iowa City) was the only medical unit in the U. S. Army to serve in three nations during the conflict – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq. Iowa military police units escorted and processed over 38,000 enemy soldiers and handled security at prisoner of war compounds. The 1034th Quartermaster Company provided millions of gallons of fresh water, while serving in their new role as a water distribution company at Log Base Echo near the Tri-Border region of Saudi Arabia.
The 3654th Maintenance Company was called upon to serve stateside at Fort Irwin, California, and the 224th Engineer Battalion was stationed in Germany to serve as the combat engineer battalion for the 8th Infantry Division.
Iowa Guardsmen returned home with a sense of accomplishment. Nearly one-fourth (23.9%) of the total personnel of the Iowa National Guard had been mobilized. This was the highest percentage of any state in the Fourth Army region and one of the highest in the nation. In addition to the awards and decorations earned, Iowa soldiers returned with many personal reminiscences, such as Michelle Rhodes’ unique assignment as "caretaker" of the 1133rd Transportation Company’s mascot, a goat named "Alice." Memories connected with service in the Gulf War and the feelings of pride they engendered would remain with these Iowans for the rest of their lives.